The Faithful by James Alan McPherson, 1973
The magic trick:
Creating a platform for some interesting generational considerations
I love this story’s setup. We’ve got an old preacher, who doubles as a barber on weekdays, falling out of step with the times. He doesn’t understand why the kids these days want their hair long, and his preaching style is getting stale and angry.
I love it.
The only problem is it almost seems the story doesn’t know where to go with itself. Whereas Flannery O’Connor would no doubt inject some tragedy into the mix with a death or two, McPherson lets his plot fizzle out.
It’s the difference between classic and very good, though. It’s not like this story is anything but very good. The ideas kicked around throughout this story regarding community and culture and the changing times, they’ll keep you thinking for weeks.
And that’s quite a trick on McPherson’s part.
Just before closing time that same day John Gilmore comes in. He does not need a shave or even a trim. Nor does he offer much conversation. Butler waits. Finally Gilmore musters sufficient courage.
“Marie says she ain’t comin’ back to Second Calvary no more.”
“Gone over to Tarwell, I bet.”
Gilmore nods. His large hands dangle between his legs as he sits on the green metal chair across from Butler.
“She was a fine usher,” Butler says. “Now Tarwell done beat me out of somethin’ fine.”
“You beat yourself,” Gilmore says. “She didn’t no more want to go over there than I want to stop comin’ in here.”
Butler looks at him. Gilmore looks down at his hands.
“So that’s how it is?”
Gilmore nods again.
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